It took some time, but the ruling Frente de Todos coalition has managed to accomplish what it could not last year: securing passage of its Budget bill for the upcoming year’s spending in the lower house.
After a marathon session in the Chamber of Deputies ending early Wednesday morning, the national government’s spending outlines for 2023 won approval with 180 votes in favour, 22 against and 49 abstentions.
For the most part, PRO deputies abstained from the ballot, with leftist and libertarians voting against. Some lawmakers from the Radical Civic Union (UCR) and UCR-Evolución parties eventually backed it, though others rejected the initiative. The final trident of the opposition coalition, the Civic Coalition, also refused to back the draft budget, which now heads to the Senate for debate.
The budget envisages total spending of almost 29 trillion pesos, economic growth of two percent and inflation reaching 60 percent in 2023, an exchange rate of 218.90 pesos to the dollar, and a reduction in the fiscal deficit from 2.5 percent to 1.9 percent. It also estimates that investment will increase 2.9 percent and export growth of 7.1 percent.
Not all the government’s aims were fulfilled. The Alberto Fernández administration’s hopes of establishing the rates of export duties for the agricultural sector and a controversial move to remove income-tax exemptions for judges, civil servants and workers in the Judiciary were blocked by opposition lawmakers.
The latter initiative, rejected with 134 votes against and 116 in favour, proposed that judges, prosecutors and court employees should pay income tax on their earnings, removing a benefit they currently enjoy. As a result, a 2016 law which proposed that new members entering the Judiciary should pay the tax remains in force.
The proposal to end the historic privilege, which would have meant a fiscal saving of 237.85 billion pesos in 2023, did not prosper without opposition support. The four left-wing lawmakers in the chamber also refused to back it on principle, saying: “Salary is not profit.” Some deputies argued that the issue should be dealt with separately, rather than within the draft budget.
One of the most vocal opponents was Graciela Camaño (Interbloque Federal), who declared: "The Constitution intends that judges should not be conditioned by those of us who have the power to establish some kind of imposition.”
Dialogue and privileges
Several influential members of the Judiciary came out to defend their stance after the measure’s rejection, with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti saying they were open to debating the issue.
Lorenzetti, one of the four judges who make up the Supreme Court at present, said in a radio interview that “nobody refuses to dialogue nor do we defend privileges" but that he was against the manner of the current proposal.
Back in 2013, when he headed the Supreme Court, Lorenzetti pronounced himself in favour of efforts to make judges pay income tax. Outlining his current stance on the issue, the former head of the nation’s highest tribunal said that he was not in favour of “privileges” but that “the stability of institutions” and “the independence of the Judiciary” had to be prioritised.
"It is seen as an advance on the Judiciary, we have to tone it down a bit. We do not accept any pressure, the Judiciary has to be independent," he added.
President Alberto Fernández, speaking to Radio El Destape on Wednesday, regretted the failure to approve the measure.
"It is incomprehensible that judges do not pay income tax,” said the Peronist leader. "A judge must currently be earning a million pesos [a month], while a deputy earns 300,000 and I as President earn just over 500,000 and I pay income tax," he said.
"I felt that this time we were going to be able to do it," he admitted.